Walk from Keeler Tavern to ACT, and the entire time you are within singing distance of a handful of other leading cultural institutions – the Aldrich Museum, Lounsbury House, the Ridgefield Library, Ballard Park, Ridgefield Playhouse, the Theater Barn, the Guild of Artists, and more. While we all knew the bounty in our midst, the state of Connecticut has given Ridgefield a standing ovation.
You see, this section of Ridgefield has been designated by the State as a “Cultural District” – the first designation made anywhere in Connecticut!
This Cultural District designation recognizes that Ridgefield has an artistic and economic center of cultural activities that makes our community extraordinary. The multitude of both nonprofit and for-profit cultural facilities, activities and assets in the expansive downtown area make our Town unique and a phenomenal resource for both residents and visitors.
“The people of Ridgefield have long appreciated the abundance of arts and culture in town. We are thrilled that the state also recognizes all that Ridgefield has to offer, by giving us the first Cultural District designation,” stated Rudy Marconi, First Selectman of the Town of Ridgefield.
The first-in-the-State Cultural District will help to promote tourism, encourage artists and creative businesses, strengthen the distinctive character of our Town, highlight the culture and history of our community, and contribute to the State’s cultural assets.
With this new designation, Ridgefield’s Cultural District will be promoted and marketed by the CT Department of Economic Community Development (“DECD”), which includes the Office of the Arts and the Office of Tourism, along with Ridgefield’s Designated Regional Service Organization which is the Cultural Alliance of Western CT.
In October 2019, a law originally proposed by then-State Representative John Frey became effective, allowing the State to designate a specific area of a city or town as a “Cultural District”. On behalf of the Town and the Ridgefield Economic & Community Development Commission (“ECDC”), ECDC Secretary Glori Norwitt began organizing materials to apply, although the process soon slowed down due to the Covid19 pandemic.
Per the process requirements, an Advisory Council subcommittee was formed, comprised of a diverse mix of Town organizations and businesses, with representation from the Board of Selectmen (“BOS”), the Historic District Commission, the Ridgefield Arts Council, the Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center, the Ridgefield Playhouse, the Ridgefield Library, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Thrown Stone Theater Company, the Ridgefield Historical Society, the Ridgefield Guild of Artists, TownVibe Media, and the West Lane Inn.
A Public Hearing was held in August 2020 during a BOS meeting, where the BOS voted unanimously to support the ECDC’s Application to the State. The CT Office of the Arts later had a “virtual visit” with the Advisory Council Subcommittee, First Selectman Marconi, and the ECDC, which included a virtual walking tour of the proposed Cultural District. The virtual tour can be viewed here.
“Receiving the first Cultural District designation in the State not only spotlights how many exceptional cultural wonders we have in our town, but also highlights the teamwork of the arts & culture for-profit and nonprofit organizations that worked together to submit and promote the Town’s application for the designation to the State,” explained ECDC Commissioner Norwitt.
“It’s like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” says ECDC Chair Geoffrey Morris. “It’s a significant accomplishment for the town.” The ECDC plans to market this new Cultural District, and encourages all businesses and organizations within it to do the same. Signs will be placed on the north and south side of Main Street, marking when visitors enter the Cultural District.
This new designation will be valuable for tourism both locally and in the region. The ECDC hopes that the State’s formal acknowledgment of the many activities and sights in Ridgefield will encourage visitors to stay for a weekend, instead of just one night. Theaters, museums, shops, galleries, superb restaurants, and countless outdoor activities including hiking and biking…there’s just too much to do!
**Published in Ridgefield Hamlet Hub; written by Geoffrey Morris